Islamabad: As many as 17 large oil paintings reflecting the beauty and apathy of the Margalla Hills National Park were put on display at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA). The exhibition was the outcome of a live-painting competition for art teachers organised by the Development Communications Network (Devcom-Pakistan) with the support of the UNDP Pakistan Environment wing in connection with the seventh Pakistan Mountain Festival, an annual flagship event of Devcom-Pakistan to mark International Mountain Day. The best five paintings were awarded with cash prizes, certificates and shields by the Pakistan. Top five winners of the competition included Maryum Rasul, Saima Ashraf, Abeera Habib, Muhammad Adnan Hafeez and Riffat Ara Baig. The jury comprised well-known artist Nahida Raza, Head of Fine Arts Department Fatima Jinnah University Dr Surriya Chaudhary, and Devcom-Pakistan Director Munir Ahmed. Neil Buhne, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Pakistan along with Agostino Da Polenza, a globally known Italian mountaineer and president of the INGO EvK2CNR, distributed the prizes to the winners.Briefing about the painting competition, Devcom-Pakistan Director and the Founding Director of the Pakistan Mountain Festival Munir Ahmed said, “The objective of the activity was to capture the beauty and the biological diversity of mountain environment as well as to reflect the challenges confronting the Margalla Hills National Park. The competition was a rare opportunity for the very busy female art teachers, who hardly find time to continue exploring their own creative passion. Most of the time, they are teaching and grooming their students and taking care of their families. On-the-spot painting for art teachers was a creative retreat and continuity of their expression for the projection and mainstreaming of the mountain’s ecosystems. I believe that art can be used in multiple ways to enhance aesthetics in society leading to conservation and protection of nature to the cleansing of the social environment.” Several art teachers have asked to expand the scope of the initiative to make it a permanent programme to develop and groom a devoted group of art-activists to engage youth and their families in awareness raising and outreach on communicating climate change and other relevant subjectsHe added, “Environmentally sensitised teachers especially those teaching art, can give a push to the environmental conservation efforts through aesthetically enriched visuals. There is need to engage and sensitise teachers their active role in the conservation efforts. A sensitised teacher is more effective than anyone else in the society because of the social status that a teacher enjoys in the society.”Riffat Ara Baig, the coordinator of the competition, said, “It was quite unusual for the art teachers to take part in the competition when they usually organise such events for their students. Competing to explore and be recognised for their creativity as experienced teachers and practicing artists, the response has been very exciting and encouraging. The enthusiasm of the art teachers showed their passion to be competitive even at this phase of life.” Baigwent on to say that several art teachers have asked to expand the scope of the initiative to make it a permanent programme to develop and groom a devoted group of art-activists to engage youth and their families in awareness raising and outreach on communicating climate change and other relevant subjects.Saima Ashraf, one of the prize winners, termed the competition of great value and as a highly appreciable step. “I really enjoyed the time spent outside to paint after such a long time,” she said. Beanish Ali, one of the participants, said, “It was a wonderful platform for the nature lovers. The beauty of nature can have a profound effect upon our senses, those gateways from the outer world to the inner were really enjoyable.”Published in Daily Times, December 14th 2017.